Eating at The Office, Grant Achatz's Subterranean Speakeasy

[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Of all the "speakeasies" that have opened recently, none takes the meaning quite as literally as The Office. Located directly below The Aviary (review here), Grant Achatz and company's progressive and sleek cocktail lounge, The Office has no sign, phone number, or way to get a reservation (unless you want to rent the whole place out for 16). The only official mention of the bar on The Aviary's website mentions that you need an invitation.

But there is another way. Turns out, to experience The Office and all its seductive charms you don't need to slip the waiters money, learn some strange handshake, or name drop. All you have to do is ask nicely. After a round at The Aviary, we inquired with our waitress, and minutes later a man showed up by our table to escort us. At the bottom of the stairs he unlocked an unmarked door and ushered us in. Well, that was easy.

I expected some fantastical version of an opulent and polished pre-prohibition bar, with brass, wood, or leather coating every available surface, but that's not quite right. Instead, the atmosphere is somewhere between a bohemian dive (impressionistic paintings and mismatched furniture) and a cozy hotel bar (chairs spaced comfortably apart and devastatingly expensive liquor bottles). No crushing feeling of pastiche here; The Office is livable and even a little ragtag, like a hideout that also includes one of the best liquor collections in the country.

It's expensive, almost shockingly so. Cocktails start at $20, though you can spend much, much more than that to sample one of the many tempting rare bottles. Yet, it's unlike any experience I can recall.

What if you're hungry? The menu is heartier than the petite portions dished out upstairs, though no less expensive. You can drop $50 on beef tartare or near a $100 for caviar. Though the plates are big enough to share, I can't even imagine trying to cobble together a complete dinner here. Don't do it. This is more of a late night stop, anyway. You're supposed to have filled up long ago. What you need at this point are snacks, and The Office has them.

We went with the two cheapest items on the menu, and while neither was remotely affordable, both showcased a generous spirit that was infectious. The first was a vegetable bourguignon that you know the kitchen labored over endlessly, yet tasted unfussy and satisfying—just the kind of comfort food you need at that hour. As for the ice cream sundae, you'll just have to see that thing to believe it.

Check out our peek into The Office by clicking on the slideshow.

Before you attempt the same plan, know that we went early on a Tuesday night. I imagine snagging a table at 10 p.m. on Saturday probably isn't as easy. Still, it doesn't hurt to ask. Just make sure you are ready to spend for the pleasure.

The Office

Located in the basement of The Aviary, 955 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (map)